* BP holds 46.5 percent interest in Noble's Santiago well
* Noble is operator, makes drilling decisions
(Adds comment from Markey, analyst)
By Kristen Hays
HOUSTON, March 1 BP Plc, (BP.L) (BP.N) whose
Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico caused the worst
offshore oil spill in U.S. history last year, co-owns the well
that was granted the first deepwater drilling permit since the
BP is Noble Energy Inc's (NBL.N) partner in the well,
holding a 46.5 percent interest, BP said.
Noble operates the Santiago well that received a permit
from U.S. regulators on Monday to resume drilling in the
Mississippi Canyon area of the Gulf, about 70 miles (110 km)
south of the Louisiana coast.
"Given how the people of the Gulf view BP, this drilling
partnership could be called 'Noble meets ignoble'," said Rep.
Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural resources
"While the optics of this situation contain their own
special irony, the reality is that Noble Energy has met the
federal government's necessary metrics for safety and
response," Markey said.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the
permit before U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's appearance
before two congressional hearings this week.
The approval also came nearly two weeks after a federal
judge ordered the Interior Department to decide within 30 days
whether to approve five permit applications.
Michael Bromwich, who heads the offshore drilling
regulating agency, insisted on on Monday there were "no
politics involved" in approving the permit.
Whitney Stanco, energy policy analyst for MF Global's
Washington research group, said the permit approval had
"excellent political timing" for the Obama Administration amid
Middle East turmoil, rising gasoline prices and Salazar's
"We don't think it was entirely premeditated," Whitney
BOEMRE did not immediately respond to a request for comment
about BP's part ownership.
Noble suspended operations on the Santiago well, which had
been drilled more than 13,500 feet beneath the seabed, in June
last year the Obama Administration temporarily banned deepwater
drilling in response to the Macondo disaster.
The ban was lifted in October, but no deepwater drilling
permits had been approved until Monday.
Last week Salazar and Bromwich were in Houston last Friday
to see elements of two rapid-response systems developed to
satisfy a new requirement that Gulf producers be ready to
handle a Macondo-like spill again.
Noble is working with Helix Energy Solutions Group's
(HLX.N) system, which includes two surface vessels BP used to
collect and burn off some of the more than 4 million barrels
that spewed from the Macondo well.
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett in Washington and Erwin
Seba in Houston;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)